California Joins the Split Rock Jumping Tour
Written by Kim F. Miller
Tuesday, 17 October 2017 23:41

FEI 2* jumping competition added to the fall calendar.

by Kim F Miller

Amidst all the devastating fire news in Sonoma County comes the very good news that the Sonoma Horse Park has been added to the Split Rock Jumping Tour next fall, marking the new, innovative series’ West Coast debut. This brings an FEI 2* competition, Sept. 5-9, with an estimated $100,000 prize money in the big Grand Prix and two classes with points toward world rankings. FEI–sanctioned jumping competition is few and far between in the United States and especially on the West Coast, most of it comprised of the Longines FEI World Cup North American League events, which have been a huge plus for exhibitors and fans in the region.

 

A former junior jumping star and current Grand Prix rider based in Lexington, KY, Derek Braun founded the Split Rock Jumping Tour in 2015. It branched out beyond Lexington for the first time this year, with two shows in Columbus, Ohio, held earlier this month. Adding a California leg is part of a Tour expansion to five competitions in 2018. The series will now start with a new Lexington Invitational that will be staged concurrent with the Kentucky Three Day Event, April 26-29, at the Kentucky Horse Park. The Saturday night Kentucky Invitational 3* will offer $225,000, be staged in partnerships with the Three Day Event’s organizers and capitalize on that legendary event’s big fan base.

 

The next stop is the original Tour event, the Kentucky International 2* at Split Rock Farm in Lexington May 23-27.

The tour’s new scope also includes one of the Columbus shows getting the FEI’s nod as a new Longines FEI World Cup qualifier. That speaks volumes about the caliber of competition this 33-year-old’s management company is staging. “To be a new organizing committee and we’ve never even had a show on that property – the  new Brave Horse Park --  is a sign of their faith in the quality we’re putting into our shows,” Derek says.

Being a jumper-only competition is the most tangibly unique element of the Split Rock series. Other unique attributes originate from Derek’s experience as an exhibitor. “It’s all about customer service,” he says. “I’ve competed myself and travelled all over the world and have put every positive detail I’ve seen in those travels into this tour. That’s the angle we are coming from. We are staffed to correctly accommodate everyone involved: spectators, exhibitors, sponsors, etc. We pay attention to every single detail.”

What’s Different?

Asked “what’s different” about Split Rock, Sonoma Horse Park’s Ashley Herman offers a first-hand report from visiting one of the recent Columbus competitions. “Being only jumpers makes it a different dynamic, and having just two rings a day, with less than 10 classes a day, makes it very interesting. Every day, riders wear white breeches, the national anthem is played and it’s a full podium awards presentation for every class. Everything is very laser focus on that class: it’s very European in its vibe.”

Derek hopes to draw roughly 400 horses to the Sonoma Horse Park with classes for every level. The early September timing is good for those hunting for World Cup and FEI ranking points. It falls two weeks after the Thunderbird Show Park’s World Cup week in Langley, British Columbia, which will be a 4* next year, and it’s a few weeks before the Sacramento International World Cup week. It also fits perfectly for the Sonoma Horse Park’s existing series of hunter/jumper shows, slipping into a gap before the circuit’s final two weeks of competition. (The 2018 FEI calendar is currently undergoing approval.)

Derek foresees that starting the Sonoma International leg as a two-star is the perfect introduction. Fence heights will most likely be between 1.45-1.5M, “allowing everybody coming up to the next level to jump the Grand Prix, and enough prize money to satisfy the professionals.”

“This will be the most prestigious show we’ve ever hosted and the course will be the biggest we’ve ever had,” says Ashley. Echoing Derek, she adds that the region is ready for it and that the Tour stop will fill a need. “There is a lot of emerging and existing talent in California and I see more and more horses that can jump the big classes every year.”

Before Ashley launched the SHP series eight years ago, she worked behind the scenes at big European show jumping events to observe how the top sport was conducted there. She has incorporated those approaches toward footing, exhibitor and sponsor relationships and reaching out to sponsors within and beyond the equestrian world. “Ashley and Meredith’s (Herman) philosophy is very much like mine, so it was a natural fit for Sonoma to be our next location,” Derek explains. The beautiful wine country setting, proximity to the major city of San Francisco and the facility’s equestrian amenities were part of the draw, too.

Derek won’t compete in the big classes and manage at the Sonoma International, but he may be found in the lower fence heights as he was in Columbus last month. “I did that more for the show than for myself. Having a couple of horses competing gives me an interesting perspective on my own show. There were a couple of instances where I made the call from my horse’s back to change some of the variables.”

Along with more growth plans for the Split Rock Jumping Tour, Derek plans to keep competing at the international level. This winter, he’ll do that at HITS Coachella, instead of the Winter Equestrian Festival in Florida. That’s partly because it’s a good fit for his current string of horses and partly to get acquainted with West Coast exhibitors. Welcome!